My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Day One

Although I had been to Yosemite National Park in California about 20ish years ago, I never really felt like I saw much of it. I was in San Francisco and Napa Valley for a week of sightseeing and wine tasting and noticed that I could squeeze in a daytrip to Yosemite National Park. I drove through the park and saw the major highlights including El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, Mariposa Grove, and Tuolumne Meadows but I didn’t do a lot of hiking because of my limited time. I always wanted to return to really get a feel for the park. I finally got to do that this year with my first backpacking trip in Yosemite.

A couple of years ago my daughter’s Girl Scout troop had saved up their money from cookie sales, a car wash, and other fundraising activities and we were all brainstorming how to spend the money when I came across the outdoor programs that Lasting Adventures offers https://lastingadventures.com/. I noticed they had a link under their Youth Trips for Boy and Girl Scout Trips. When I asked the girls in our troop if they might be interested in backpacking in Yosemite with Lasting Adventures, they all enthusiastically agreed so I began to make the arrangements.

Since I’m the troop leader and love to hike and camp it was a given that I would be one of the adults going. My co-leader isn’t exactly the backpacking type (not that that’s a bad thing) so I asked another parent of a girl from our troop who I knew loved to hike and camp if she could go with us. She agreed and we chose a date in August of 2020 to go. Unfortunately that trip was cancelled because of COVID but we were able to keep all of our deposits and move everything back to August of 2021 when we got the green light from our local Girl Scouts council that we could go.

We live in North Carolina so our troop had to fly to California and somehow get to Yosemite National Park, which really isn’t that close to any major airports. I chose Fresno to fly into and someone from Lasting Adventures suggested I get tickets with YARTS public transit to Yosemite https://yarts.com/, which was one heck of a deal. Private shuttles from Fresno to Yosemite charged around $100 or more per person, while YARTS was a mere $36 for adults and reduced fare for our girls since they’re all under 17. The shuttle took around 4 hours from the Fresno Airport since there were other stops along the way and one stop included a 10 minute break. We were in a large bus with a bathroom in the back and chargers at the seats so it was a comfortable ride.

After a long day of flying across the country, spending the night at a hotel by the airport, and a 4-hour shuttle the next day, we finally arrived at Yosemite Valley tired but excited to begin our adventure. Our two guides, Bella and Savannah met us in one of the parking lots and gave us each our backpacks, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and some other gear we would need for the next five days. We all emptied our suitcases and put a couple of shirts, a pair of shorts, socks, underwear, and basically nothing but essentials into our backpacks.

There were five girls from the troop, myself, the other adult from our troop plus our two guides and between the 9 of us we would be carrying everything we would need for the next five days on our backs. As I quickly found out when I lifted my backpack, every single ounce adds up. Although I had planned on bringing a clean shirt for each day and having a couple of pairs of shorts, I changed my mind when we were transferring things from our suitcases and only packed two shirts and one pair of shorts into my backpack. Other things I had planned on bringing like body wipes, deodorant, and others got left behind as well.

Yosemite at last!

We stored all of our luggage containing things we weren’t bringing on our multi-day hike in one of the guide’s cars and were instructed how to maneuver ourselves into a fully-stuffed backpack. You put the pack on one knee, put one arm in then the other in a bent-over position, buckle the hip and chest straps, and tighten or loosen as necessary. Holy crap was this thing heavy. I would be carrying this for the next five days, hiking over loose rocks, up and down hills? Whoa, I thought. This wasn’t going to be easy, but then again, I didn’t expect it to be when I signed up for the trip. Would the girls, most of whom were 16, be able to handle their packs plus all of the hiking, I wondered?

Being the smart and experienced guides that they were, Bella and Savannah told us we would be hiking only about a mile and a half to our first campground. It was a way to get us used to carrying our backpacks and figure out what straps needed tightened or loosened. I didn’t mention before that our packs also contained bear cans full of our food for the next five days and some people carried other gear like pots and pans, and dishes or other necessities for the group.

My hips were aching by the end of that short hike and I was wondering how I would carry that heavy pack for the longer distances that were planned. The girls seemed to also struggle with the weight of their packs but we all made it to the campsite and the first thing we did was take off our backpacks, with a collective sigh of relief.

No tents for us! Who needs tents? We’re Girl Scouts!

I had been told by someone at Lasting Adventures prior to our arrival that although they did their youth trips without tents that adult chaperones had the option of sleeping in a tent but that also meant I would have to carry that tent. After debating it for a while, I thought if the girls could sleep outdoors without a tent, I could too and the other adult going with us agreed with me.

So sans tents at our first campground, Bella and Savannah chose a good site for us and showed us how to set up our sleeping areas. The first to go down was a piece of Tyvek ground cloth, then the sleeping pad went on top of that, and finally our sleeping bag went on top of that. Pretty simple really.

After everyone had set up their sleeping areas and we had changed out of our hiking shoes, we walked over to the Merced River for a refreshing dip. The water was crystal clear and only about waist-deep at least where we were. We were told in the spring after the snow melts, the river often floods and is high enough to go kayaking and tubing. There were still some people with inflatables mostly just relaxing in one spot rather than floating down the river but the water would definitely have been too low for a kayak.

Just enjoying the view and taking it all in!

Although the water was quite cold at first, I quickly adjusted and it felt soothing and relaxing to wade in the water looking at the views surrounding us. On one end were the majestic mountains looming over us and on the other end was a cool stone bridge along with more mountains. The girls happily chatted and we all enjoyed our time in the serene setting, content to finally be at Yosemite National Park.

We made our way back to camp after an hour or so of wading in or sitting by the water and dined on a delicious meal of curry chicken that Bella and Savannah had prepared for us. After playing some games we brushed our teeth using toothpaste tablets (to save on weight because as I said, every ounce counts) and slid into our sleeping bags, tired but very much looking forward to what was to come.

To be continued…

Inspirational and Funny Quotes Changed to Running Quotes

Once again I had an idea for a blog post when I was out running. Does this ever happen to you? Anyway, for whatever crazy reason, this quote came into my head:   “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.”- Confucius

I thought to myself, “What if I turned that into a running quote?” and I came up with this: “Give a man a pair of running shoes and he’ll run for a day. Offer to be a man’s running partner and you’ve got a friend for life.” Then when I got home I looked up some other famous quotes and started turning them into running quotes. Here’s what I came up with.

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney

Running quote:  “The way to get started running is to quit talking about it and start running.”

photo of people in a marathon
Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Pexels.com

“People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”- Rob Siltanen

Running quote:  “The people who are crazy enough to think they can run a marathon are the ones who do.”

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”- Henry Ford

Running quote:  “Whether you think you can or think you can’t run that extra mile, you’re right.” Or you could leave it exactly like it is and it still applies to running. I love that quote.

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”- C.S. Lewis

Running quote:  “You are never too old to start running or to set a new running goal.”

female and male runners on a marathon
Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Pexels.com

“I think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.” – Michael Phelps

Running quote:  “Running goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.”

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” – Charles Swindoll

Running quote:  “Marathons are 10% physical and 90% mental.”

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain

Running quote:  “The secret of being a runner is getting started.”

“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that who cares? He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes!” – Billy Connolly

Running quote:  “Before you judge a man, run a mile in his shoes. After that who cares? You’re a mile away and you’ve got new running shoes!”

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“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is.”– Ellen DeGeneres

Running quote:  “My grandmother started running five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and she just crossed into Canada.” On second thought, maybe Ellen DeGeneres’ version is better. What do you think?

It seemed pretty easy to turn these quotes into running-specific quotes and for whatever reason it was fun to me. I had a harder time with the funny quotes than the inspirational quotes. Anyway, I hope I at least made some of you smile. With all of the negative information currently circulating, I thought we could all use something lighthearted for a change.

Do you like inspirational or funny quotes? Do you ever turn them around into running quotes or something else just for fun?

Happy running!

Donna

Rediscovering Abundance in Atlanta: Some of My Favorite Places in Atlanta, Georgia

Over the years Atlanta has been one of those cities that has a certain draw for me and I can’t stay away forever. Unlike most other cities I go to, once just wasn’t enough when it came to Atlanta. I first went to Atlanta when I was in college in the late 90’s and I’ve been back a few times since then. I almost moved there straight after graduate school and most likely would have if I would have gotten a job offer there.

Still, when I go back (as I recently did) I’m always amazed at how much the area has grown since my previous visit. I read a projection that they expect the population of Atlanta to grow to 8.6 million people by 2050 (it’s currently just over half a million). Traffic is insane and you’d be well-advised to take the MARTA public transportation system https://www.itsmarta.com/, primarily the train system although there are buses and streetcars as well. Besides, even if you don’t mind sitting in endless traffic, parking is expensive and hard to find especially in the popular Midtown and Downtown areas.

The MARTA trains are abundant, clean, and safe for the most part. Just learn which line your stop is on and if you need to transfer stations and know which direction you need to go. It’s easy to figure out but I’ve always found friendly and helpful people to ask if I was confused about something or forgot something.

Where to Stay

There is an abundance of hotels, Airbnbs, Bed and Breakfasts, and even an Alpaca Treehouse with llamas, alpacas, bunnies, and chickens (https://www.alpacatreehouse.com/alpaca-treehouse). The most convenient and safest place to stay is in the Midtown or Downtown area although I’ve also stayed just north of Atlanta and that was fine albeit not quite as convenient. Prices range from the super-expensive Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott Marquis, and St. Regis to the moderately-priced Doubletree by Hilton, Sonesta, Hotel Indigo, Radisson to the budget-friendly options like Econo Lodge, Days Inn, Motel 6 and so many more. Often the more expensive places to stay are located close to an array of shops and restaurants so the downside if you stay at a budget-friendly hotel you may have to drive or take public transportation for a bit longer than otherwise. Even more important than saving a few dollars, first and foremost make sure your hotel is in a safe area.

Favorite Places

Likewise, there is an abundance of things to do in Atlanta. Here are some of my favorites with a couple of others thrown in that are popular with other people but just aren’t my thing.

Atlanta Botanical Garden- I’ve been here a couple of times and on my most recent visit I discovered places that I hadn’t seen the first time. It’s funny because they even state on their website: “As the Garden evolves, it’s never the same place twice.” I can attest to that so even if you’ve been before, it’s worth going again. I love the “Garden Guide” feature that you can click, choosing specific things like Family Adventure, Flying Solo, Fresh Art and Music, and more, then click which garden (there’s another in Gainesville), how much time you have, and so forth. https://atlantabg.org/garden-guide/

This is definitely one of the best botanical gardens I’ve been to anywhere in the world and also one of the largest and most comprehensive. Tickets are on the pricey side, starting at $22.95 and up for adults but if you enjoy flowers and nature, I feel like it’s worth it. Most people spend a couple of hours here, especially if you don’t stop to have lunch or dinner at the cafe (which is good but also on the pricey side if you get table service).

Fernbank Museum– the tagline is “Where Science, Nature, and Fun Make History” and this is a perfect description of the museum. There are indoor exhibits such as Fantastic Forces, A Walk Through Time in Georgia, Curator’s Corner; outdoor exhibits such as WildWoods, Fernbank Forest, Rain Garden; and temporary as well as permanent special exhibits such as Sky High focusing on birds, Habitat where you can see sculptures and explore four different biomes. Plus you can watch a movie on a giant screen for a bit extra. As a scientist and nature- and history-lover, this place is just heaven to me and worth every penny for the $20 admission. https://fernbankmuseum.org/

The Fernbank Museum

Georgia Aquarium– this is the largest aquarium in the world, whether you’re measuring by number of fish or volume of water. I really like how their exhibits are laid out, for example take the Aquanaut Adventure: A Discovery Zone. This has 49 kid adventures, more than 15 species, and one rope bridge. Here you can learn about aquatic life in extreme environments. In other words, you don’t just walk by tanks filled with fish and other animals, you learn about the animals and gain an appreciation for aquatic animals and the research marine scientists do.

The Georgia Aquarium is heavily invested in research and conservation, a fact that I love. There are also several behind-the-scenes encounters you can pay extra for, which is great if you especially love, say, penguins, seals, or sea lions. Plus, there are many educational programs, both online and in-person, in addition to volunteer programs, programs for military and veterans, and even virtual yoga. Tickets for adults are $36.95 and includes access to all the Aquarium galleries, 4D Theater shows, general-seating Dolphin Presentation, Sea Lion Presentation and supports ocean conservation. https://www.georgiaaquarium.org/

Atlanta History Center– not only is there historical information on events that specifically took place in Atlanta, like the 1996 Olympics, but there are also displays on national events like the 19th Amendment, the American Civil War, and so much more. In my opinion, this is one of the best history centers in the United States and ranks up there with the Smithsonian museums as far as quality and quantity. The outside grounds are also worth checking out, with 33 acres of gardens, woodlands, and trails. You can also have lunch at the Swan Coach House on the grounds of the Swan Mansion and try some quintessential Southern fare like pimento cheese grit fritters, chicken salad tea sandwiches, mint juleps, and homemade pecan pie. https://www.atlantahistorycenter.com/visit

Stone Mountain Park- located in Stone Mountain, Georgia, about 30 minutes from Atlanta is Georgia’s most-visited attraction. Located on 3200 acres of land, you can find trails that range from short and easy to longer and more difficult. One of the toughest trails is also one of the most popular, the Walk Up Trail; even though it’s only a mile, it goes straight up the mountain, much of it on stone, with the steepest parts near the pinnacle. If you’re not able or just don’t want to hike that steep of a trail, you can take a cable car to the top (Summit Skyride) for a fee.

Cherokeee Trail is one of the longer trails, at 5 miles and it meanders along past water views and through the woods. You can also see a 100-year-old Grist Mill (although you can’t go inside) and the Quarry Exhibit to see how the park was made with photos and outdoor displays plus there are extra activities for children that require a ticket. If you plan to just hike around the park for the day, entry is free except for the parking fee. There are a few options for staying inside the park, ranging from a campground with over 400 sites, Stone Mountain Inn, and a Marriott hotel. The MARTA public transportation stops about 1/2 mile from the park’s West Gate or you can take an Uber from Atlanta if you don’t have a car. https://www.stonemountainpark.com/

The bottom right photo is the very last section of the Walk Up Trail, straight up a rock face!

World of Coca-Cola– as you might imagine this museum showcases all things about the Coca-Cola Company. I’ll admit, I’ve never been here, as I’ve never been a big fan of Coca-Cola or any soda for that matter, but I know it’s popular. There are artifacts, a bottling display, a tasting experience (that’s been altered for COVID safety), and more. Most people spend a couple of hours here. Tickets for adults are $18. https://www.worldofcoca-cola.com/plan-your-visit/

Zoo Atlanta- with over 1000 animal species and the only twin giant pandas in the United States, this is a nice way to spend a morning, especially if you have young children but even if you don’t. You can find the usual zoo offerings like behind-the-scenes encounters, giraffe feedings, train rides, and wildlife presentations. The zoo is also actively involved in research and conservation programs around the world. Tickets start at $26.99 for adults and $20.99 for children. https://zooatlanta.org/visit/

Money-saving Tip: If you plan on doing a few of these activities, you should consider buying an Atlanta CityPass. For $77 for adults and $63 for children you will get entry to 5 attractions including Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, and Zoo Atlanta plus 2 more attractions that you can choose from Fernbank of Natural History, College Football Hall of Fame, and National Center for Civil and Human Rights. It could potentially save you 45% off ticket prices if you purchased them separately. You have nine consecutive days to use the pass beginning on the first day of use. https://www.citypass.com/atlanta

Favorite Foods and Restaurants

I would be remiss to not include some of my favorite restaurants in Atlanta. Again, there is an abundance of truly over-the-top restaurants scattered all around the Atlanta area. The ones I’m going to list here also rank high on lists like Yelp (because I know food choices can be subjective).

Let’s play “Find the item that doesn’t belong here”

South City Kitchen– Southern food at its best: shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, collard greens, Carolina trout are some of my favorites.

Local Expedition Wood Fired Grill– technically not in Atlanta but two locations on the outskirts, Sandy Springs and Alpharetta. Fresh, made-to-order at the counter with choice of protein, sides, rice or salad, or you can get wraps or salads. Great if you’re in a hurry but want something healthy.

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken– besides Atlanta, locations in Nashville, Memphis, Birmingham, and Las Vegas. I ate at one of the Nashville locations first and have since tried the Atlanta location. The chicken is tender and juicy and hot but not too much spice to be enjoyable.

Aviva by Kameel– Mediterranean food. Excellent shawarma, hummus, and falafel.

Atlanta Breakfast Club– need I say more?

Ice Cream Places- we seemed to get on an ice cream kick when we were in Minnesota prior to going to Atlanta recently. Some places we enjoyed include: Amorino Gelato (in Lenox Square), Morelli’s Gourmet Ice Cream (so creamy), and Frosty Caboose in a converted train caboose in nearby Chamblee (the green tea ice cream sundae with crystallized ginger and a fortune cookie on top is genius).

Atlanta is definitely a city where you can pop in for a long weekend or you could stay a week and there would still be plenty to do. Another thing of note is it does get hot and humid during the summer, as does the rest of the Southeast in the US. If you’re not used to sticky hot summer weather, the fall or spring would be more comfortable, or even the winter. The lows in the winter hovers around the mid-30’s and the highs are around the mid-50’s so it’s still not too cold to walk around outside.

Have you been to Atlanta, Georgia? If so, tell me about it- what did you do and what were some of your favorite things?

Happy travels!

Donna

Costs Involved in Running a Half Marathon in All 50 States

By the time I had the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states I had already run several half marathons in different states. I didn’t officially begin my journey way back in 2000 when I ran my first half marathon on the coast of North Carolina thinking I would run a half marathon in all 50 states. Only after running in Hawaii, a couple more half marathons in North Carolina, and in a handful of other states did my goal begin to form.

Never once did money or specifically how much money it would take to run a half marathon in all 50 states cross my mind. I have always placed a high priority on travel in my life and I looked at this goal as part of my travel plans. It was always my plan to spend as much time as I could or felt like was warranted for each state I ran a race in. For example, I didn’t spend as much time in Indiana as I did in South Dakota. My race for Indiana was in the small town of Evansville and while I could have driven to Louisville, Kentucky and spent a few days there after my race, I chose not to. However, when I ran in Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota, I spent a week in the area going to some of the state and national parks in the Black Hills National Forest.

Beautiful Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota

Obviously I spent more money in some states than others, largely based on how much time I spent in each state. My two biggest expenses for running a half marathon in all 50 states have been airfare and lodging. Of the 50 half marathons in 48 states I’ve run, I’ve driven to about 10 half marathons in less than 10 states. The majority of races have been ones I’ve flown to.

The airfare I’ve spent has varied wildly from less than $200/ticket to upwards of $800/ticket. Until recently, my husband and daughter also accompanied me to every race so that means three airline tickets had to be purchased. I’ve gotten more travel savvy over the years so when possible I’ve used airline miles for some of these flights. For example, for my half marathon in Boise, Idaho, I used 20,000 miles per person and only spent $11.20 each, for a grand total of $33.60 for airfare to Idaho; not bad considering we flew from North Carolina.

Likewise, the money I’ve spent on accommodations for races has varied hugely. Obviously I spent considerably less for places where I only spent a long weekend versus a week or more. Never have I spent thousands of dollars for a place to sleep, whether it’s been for races or just a “regular” vacation, however. This isn’t to say I’ll stay at a Motel 6 in a seedy neighborhood but by this point in my life I’m able to find a place that’s moderately-priced just by doing a little homework and comparison shopping.

Taken after the Star Valley Half Marathon in Wyoming. I LOVED this race!

As I’ve mentioned before, I really like the website https://www.hotels.com/. While they’re owned by Expedia (as I see on my credit card statements but otherwise probably wouldn’t know this), Hotels has a loyalty program. If you stay 10 nights in a calendar year you get a free reward night. This includes multi-night stays at the same hotel. I know for some other hotel rewards programs, they count each hotel stay individually, regardless of the number of nights you stay each time. With Hotels if you stay 5 nights at one of their hotels, 3 nights at another, and 2 nights at another in the same year, you’ll receive a reward night valued at the average of how much you spent over the course of that year per night.

Expedia also has a loyalty program that ranges from blue to silver to gold. Blue members receive 10% off stays (this is the same for Hotels members), Silver members (7 nights or more in a year) receive blue rewards plus perks like spa access and free breakfast (same with Hotels Silver members), and Gold members (15 or more nights) receive silver and blue rewards plus free room upgrades and 30% more points (similar with Hotels Gold members). The difference with Expedia is you don’t receive a free hotel night like you do with Hotels, hence Hotels is the clear winner in my opinion.

I don’t just search for hotel rooms, though, I also comparison shop at Airbnb and similar sites like Vrbo. Sometimes having a full kitchen and the ability to cook your own meals and of course the willingness to do so can save hundreds of dollars versus eating out at restaurants for every meal. Even though the price for a home or apartment rental may be slightly more than a hotel room, if you factor in the savings of not eating out as much, the difference can be worth it. If you’re staying in a big city where parking is a premium and have a rental car or your own car, not having to pay for parking at the hotel can also add up. Bottom line- look at various sites for accommodations and factor in food and parking if relevant before you make those reservations.

This brings me to the expense of food when traveling to half marathons. This will depend on the person and your personal eating likes and dislikes. Some people eat differently when they’re on vacation than when they’re home, too. If you like to go out for steak dinners at expensive restaurants when you’re on vacation that will add up a lot quicker than someone who is happy finding a local grocery store and whipping up dinner in their Airbnb or even picking up a rotisserie chicken and sides from the deli at a grocery store, with no cooking involved. If you’re spending a week at a place after a race and are eating out for three meals a day you’ll spend considerably more than someone who is eating a light breakfast in their room, going out for lunch at local cafes, and only eating at restaurants some of the time for dinner.

Finishing the White River Marathon for Kenya Half Marathon in tiny Cotter, Arkansas

The final expense for running a race in all 50 states is the race entry fee. Although I haven’t tracked it, I don’t believe I’ve spent more than $80 or $90 for a half marathon entry fee. The average entry fee that I’ve personally spent per race has probably been around $65. This has gone up in the last decade, I believe largely due to the swag that’s offered at races. Those hoodies, mugs, sunglasses, and other goodies you get at races aren’t free and the cost for these things are included in the race fee. When I ran my first several half marathons, the only thing I received was a race shirt, not even a medal and of course my entry fees were also much lower than now.

Disney races are also notoriously expensive, with a runner easily spending over $100 just for the entry fee, not even including other extras like a pre-race pasta dinner and commemorative pins. Likewise, races in big cities like New York and Chicago typically cost more than races in smaller cities. Finally, races that are put on by groups like Rock ‘n Roll cost more than races put on by local race directors in smaller towns.

So just how much have I spent on all of the half marathons I’ve run? I haven’t added it all up because I couldn’t even if I wanted to since I don’t have any idea how much I spent on my airfare or any other expenses for my half marathons 20 years ago in Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Arizona and all of the others. Only recently did I start keeping track of how much I spend on travel, which coincided when I started paying attention to things like airline miles and hotel rewards.

Still, it doesn’t really matter how much I’ve spent because the memories I’ve gained have been priceless and I don’t regret a single penny I’ve spent. Not even for the crappy race just outside of Atlanta, Run the Reagan Half Marathon, Georgia-14th state because I had fun in Atlanta after the race and that made it worth it.

After the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska

This brings me to the point of only spending time in a place for the sole purpose of running a race there, with no real time spent either before or after a race in the area. I realize some people choose to do this, whether for financial reasons or for lack of adequate vacation time, but for me, I never wanted to do that. A huge part of this whole journey for me has been to get to see places in the United States I probably wouldn’t have otherwise traveled to. I don’t feel like you can do that in a day or two.

I realize even spending a week or ten days in a state almost never is enough to really see all that they have to offer. I’ve often felt like I barely scratched the surface when I’ve traveled to a state for a half marathon. When I ran the half marathon in Anchorage, Alaska (Skinny Raven Half Marathon, Anchorage, Alaska-43rd state) and spent some time there after the race, I still felt like I could have spent a month there and only see a tiny part of Alaska simply because it’s such an enormous state and on top of that there aren’t roads to some areas. I’ve done what I could, though, given my amount of time off and money I was willing and able to spend.

With only two states left to go on my journey (Iowa and New Mexico), I’ve spent some time recently looking back on all of the states I’ve been to so far. There were some half marathons that flat out sucked and I would never recommend but there have also been half marathons that I was in sheer awe of the beauty of the area (Running a Half Marathon or Marathon in All 50 United States? Here are the Races in States that I Recommend). Some of the races I ran have been discontinued and no longer exist and some are still going strong.

The Marshall University Half Marathon in West Virginia was a fun one!

I feel like every person’s journey to run a race in all 50 states whether it’s a half marathon, marathon, 5k, or anything else will be unique to each person. Some people prefer races in big cities over small towns, others prefer races with lots of swag while some have no interest in another race shirt or anything else other than running that race, and finally some people choose a race because the timing of it fits in with their personal schedule.

Ultimately each person who has the goal to run a race in all 50 states has to decide for themselves how much money but also how much time they’re willing and able to spend. If someone has the means to drive to more states than I have, that will cut costs considerably, especially if they have a camper or something they can not only drive to the race but also sleep in. I believe anyone can achieve their goal of running a race in all 50 states as long as you make it a priority and have at least a rough idea of when and where you’re going to run, taking into account races sometimes get cancelled so you need to have several back-up plans for each state and be flexible.

Do you have a goal to run a race in all 50 states? If so, tell me about your journey so far. Any questions about my journey or anything I failed to mention here?

Happy running!

Donna

Museums, Shopping, and More in Duluth, Minnesota

When I was planning my vacation to Minnesota of which a portion included some time in Duluth I knew I wanted to go hiking and I knew there were many options for that given all of the city and state parks (Duluth has an astounding 83 parks). See my post on hiking in and near Duluth: State and Local Parks Plus Daytrips From Duluth, Minnesota. However, I also knew I didn’t want to spend every day just hiking so I began to look into other things to do in the area. Typically I enjoy history, science, and art museums, art galleries, and local shops in an area where I’m traveling.

I found a plethora of these things in Duluth and had a hard time narrowing it down to ones my teenage daughter and I would have time to visit. My daughter asked if she could pick some of the museums we went to and I agreed. I thought she came up with some unique places. Here are some of my favorites.

The back of Glensheen Mansion

Glensheen Mansion

Glensheen mansion was built between 1905 and 1908 by Chester and Clara Congdon. The 27,000 square foot, 39-room mansion cost the Congdons $854,000 to build and was eventually donated to the University of Minnesota in 1979 and opened to the public for tours. The Congdons became known for opening up iron mining in the area and setting aside land for public use such as Congdon Park.

There are several options for tours including the self-guided Classic Tour, Full Mansion to see all 5 floors, Grounds Admission, and Kayak Tour. There are also some fun extras like scavenger hunts for children, a coffee bar and Johnson’s Bakery Donuts, Shark on the Lake where you can get ice cream from Love Creamery and beer or cocktails, and concerts on the pier in July and August. https://glensheen.org/

Some of my favorite parts of Glensheen Mansion

Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum

My daughter found this little gem. I was a bit hesitant about going to a museum primarily full of manuscripts but I was glad we went. The museum has an eclectic collection of original manuscripts and documents from a wide range of historical events including the original Bill of Rights, the first printing of the Ten Commandments from the 1455 Gutenberg Bible, and Richard Wagner’s “Wedding March.” There are 11 locations of Karpeles Manuscript Museums in the United States including the one in Duluth. It was founded in 1983 by real estate moguls David and Marsha Karpeles and includes permanent and temporary collections that travel from one site to another.

When we visited, the temporary collection was from Star Trek. My daughter and I are both Trekkies so we greatly enjoyed looking at original drawings from the show. The museum is housed in what was originally a First Church of Christ, Scientist and the building itself is like a piece of art. We spent about an hour looking at every single piece in the permanent and temporary collections and I also reminisced with the person working there about the collection of antique phones (remember bag phones, the original cell phones? I actually had one when I was in graduate school!). https://karpeles.com/index.php

Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum

Lake Superior Railroad Museum

Housed in the St. Louis County Depot, the Lake Superior Railroad Museum is a must-do if you’re a train buff or enjoy historical sites. There are dozens of trains, some of which you can walk through and other train-related historical memorabilia. You can also buy tickets here and take a narrated train ride from Duluth along the shores of Lake Superior into the woods. You will need to buy tickets for entry to the museum but don’t need to purchase them in advance. https://lsrm.org/

Duluth Art Institute

Also in the St. Louis County Depot is the Duluth Art Institute, with free entry. Although I found it to be on the small side, considering the price of admission, it’s worth going to. There was mainly modern art and textile art when I was there but I know the art is temporary in most of the galleries so the displays change regularly. There are also events like artist talks, book club, and Free FriDAI which is a growing collection of digital activities to help people engage with the exhibitions on view at the Duluth Art Institute, make art from home, and learn about art. https://www.duluthartinstitute.org/

Favorite Places to Eat

Most of the best places to eat are downtown and on Canal Park, or at least that’s what I was told. Some of my favorites include: Fitzer’s Brewhouse, Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake, Black Woods Bar and Grill, Bellisio’s, and Va Bene. I had my first wild rice burger ever at Fitzer’s and it was really different but delicious. It had a bit of a crunch from the rice that just added to the flavor. Just a short drive away in Superior, Wisconsin is Thirsty Pagan Brewing, which I thought had great pizza and the TPB Bread appetizer (a 10-inch round of pizza dough; I had the Margherita with fresh garlic, tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese) was amazing. You also have to get ice cream from Love Creamery.

Ice cream from Love Creamery and my wild rice burger from Fitzer’s

Unique Shopping

Canal Park has many unique shops like Two & Co (women’s clothing and jewelry), Duluth Kitchen Co., Frost River Trading (for some high-quality packs and bags made by hand in Duluth), Indigenous First: Art and Gift Shop, a few cool art galleries, and Legacy Glassworks where you can take a Glassblowing class (we watched someone taking a class and it was really fun to watch).

Fitzer’s actually is more than just a Brewhouse; there’s also an Inn there plus several shops in the building. In a similar vein, the Downtown Holiday Inn houses over 40 shops and restaurants in the bottom few floors and is the center of the Downtown skywalk system. If you like antiques, Father Time Antique Mall has over 75 antique shops and Old Town Antiques and Books has antique furniture and books.

I really enjoyed Duluth and found it much more diverse than I expected it to be, with a wide range of foods, shops, and unique museums. I would highly recommend going here for a few days and add some more on to go to the state parks in the north.

Have you been to Duluth, Minnesota? If so, what were some of your favorite places or things you saw?

Happy travels!

Donna

Book Review- “Master Your Core. A Science-Based Guide to Achieve Peak Performance and Resilience to Injury” by Dr. Bohdanna Zazulak

This is without a doubt the most comprehensive book I’ve ever read about the human body’s core. Dr. Zazulak begins by emphasizing how important our core is for the prevention of injuries and this is the premise of the book. Master Your Core is more than just a book with a bunch of core exercises; it’s obvious Dr. Zazulak understands people also need to know why the core is important and how you can improve your core in ways other than physical activity.

The book is logically divided into two parts, with the first part called Core Fundamentals and includes discussions on defining core stability, how to develop awareness and control of our core, neuromuscular imbalances and how they effect the core, a detailed discussion of posture, and a lengthy discussion on sex-based differences. Prior to this book I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything about differences between men and women’s cores but this book goes over everything from how hormones, anatomy, neurological differences, and psychological factors effect men and women’s cores differently.

There is also a section on meditation, mindful breathing exercises, and practicing gratitude, an interesting section on the heart-core connection, discussions on the importance of water, sleep, and self-care, and different breathing techniques designed to tone the core floor. One thing I learned is the connection between your jaw and core floor. When you clench your jaw because you’re stressed, you also clench your pelvic floor. Perhaps not surprisingly, women tend to “internalize emotions more often, which manifests as muscle tension in an unrelaxed core floor.” This can compromise blood flow and deprive the muscles of the oxygen and nutrients they need to function optimally.

Part 2 is called the Core BASE Guide and includes tangible ways to improve your core. Within this part are four sections: breathing, awareness, stability, and empowerment. As you might imagine the section on breathing is a deep dive covering all things breath-related and the importance of deep belly or diaphragmatic breathing.

In all, there are seven tables each with seven core exercises including descriptions for each exercise and a table with diagrams for each group of exercises (for 49 total core exercises). Dr. Zazulak notes that no one should feel obligated to do every single exercise; she acknowledges it would be too much for some people and everyone has different abilities and needs. Meditation is once again discussed in the Awareness section, as are mantras and body awareness. There are some examples of core-empowering activities such as yoga, martial arts as well as some unexpected ones like laughter and nature and readers are told to choose ones that speak to them personally.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is how the book is filled with apropos quotes throughout. A quote I especially liked is the following that is at the beginning of the last section before the conclusion:

“Doctors won’t make you healthy. Nutritionists won’t make you
slim. Teachers won’t make you smart. Gurus won’t make you calm.
Mentors won’t make you rich. Trainers won’t make you fit. Ultimately
you have to take responsibility.”—Naval Ravikant

In other words, if you don’t put in the work, it won’t happen. Chapter 13 describes how you can personalize the book and the exercises to fit your body and needs. There’s even a way to calculate your core score, which may especially appeal to competitive people. I like it because it gives you a goal to work your way towards and it gives you a tangible way to measure your progress.

I really enjoyed this book and how in-depth Dr. Zazulak dives into all things core-related. It’s so much more than just a book listing off core exercises. The book shows beautifully how the mind, heart, and musculoskeletal systems all work together with our core. Also unique is the section on women’s core health and how women’s and men’s cores are different and shouldn’t be lumped together.

If you would like to purchase Master Your Core, you may do so at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Master-Your-Core-Science-Based-Performance/dp/163161116X/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Master+Your+Core&qid=1622477266&sr=8-1

The author’s website: https://doczaz.com/

More information about Dr. Zazulak from the publisher website: https://www.tckpublishing.com/our-authors/author-bohdanna-zazulak/

******* I’ll be doing a giveaway of Dr. Zazulak’s book on Instagram tomorrow, August 14. Check out my post there if you’d like to enter. If you’re not on Instagram, reply below why you’d like a copy of this book and I’ll mix in your entry with the others on IG when I randomly pick a winner.

https://www.instagram.com/runningtotraveltheworld/

As always, happy running!

Donna

State and Local Parks Plus Daytrips From Duluth, Minnesota

When I was planning my first trip to Minnesota I knew I wanted to spend some time in the northern part of the state that is surrounded by Lake Superior. As I saw it, there were a couple of options: 1) Stay at a campground at one of the state parks in the northern part of the state or 2) Stay in Duluth and have the best of both worlds with easy access to the state parks plus be able to go to museums and do some shopping in the Duluth area. I chose the latter and was so glad I did in the end.

For many runners, Duluth is the site of the famous Grandma’s Marathon. I personally know some people who ran it and they all raved about not only the race course but the area in general and how beautiful it is. By the time I tried to register for the half marathon portion of Grandma’s Marathon this year, the race was full so that wasn’t an option for me. No problem, I would just spend some time in Duluth after my race in Lake City instead (Circle of Life Half Marathon, Lake City, Minnesota- 48th state).

First of all, I don’t claim to be an expert on Duluth or the state parks there or really anything Minnesota-related but I will give you a recount of my experience there. I stayed about four days in Duluth and hiked in state and local parks, went to some unique museums and a mansion, and ate some incredible meals. Oh, and had all.the.ice cream. What is it with Minnesota and ice cream shops? I tried on several occasions to find a bakery for some baked goods but was unable and ended up going to an ice cream shop instead because I found out there was no shortage of them. I wouldn’t have thought there would be SO many ice cream places in such a northern state but at least in my case, that seemed to be what I found.

Parks in and Around Duluth

There are some of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen in this area that you can easily do a day trip from Duluth to reach by car. I’ll start with the ones that are the closest and work my way out geographically.

Lester Park is within Duluth city limits and is bigger than it first seems when you pull into one of the parking lots. There’s an area just a short walk from a parking lot where we saw kids playing in the water, which would be a nice respite on a hot summer day. I later learned the names of the bodies of water we saw: Lester River and Amity Creek. There are also picnic tables and grills scattered around and several mountain bike trails in addition to over nine miles of trails. https://duluthmn.gov/parks/parks-listing/lester-park/

Congdon Park is also in Duluth and has a bit of a story behind it. If you go to Glensheen Mansion you will know the family that lived there was the Congdon family so if you’re like me you will wonder if there is a connection. Indeed there is. It seems Chester Congdon was building his estate, Glensheen Mansion in 1908 and discovered the city was using Tischer Creek that runs through what is now Congdon Park as an open sewer. Mr. Congdon gave Duluth the land and paid for the development of the park on the grounds they would stop using the creek that ran through his property as their sewer. Although Congdon Park is small, there are some small waterfalls that run along the trail and it’s really quite peaceful despite being so close to a neighborhood. https://duluthmn.gov/parks/parks-listing/congdon-park/

Although this is just two parks, Duluth has 83 (!) parks that includes dog parks, a disc golf park, Lester Park Golf Course (public), community parks, tennis courts, and a wide range of other parks and what they offer. I encourage you to check some out when you’re staying in or near Duluth. The city of Duluth has a wonderfully extensive webpage with their parks and a search engine you can use to search by amenities. https://duluthmn.gov/parks/parks-listing/

Jay Cooke State Park

Jay Cooke State Park is about 10 miles southwest of Duluth and is one of the most-visited state parks in Minnesota. Established in 1915 with a donation of land by the St. Louis Power Company, this park is over 9,000 acres and even has a gorge at one part of the park. There are cabins and campsites but swimming is not allowed because of the currents. Vehicle permits are required and can be purchased at the entrance.

Some of the best trails at Jay Cooke State Park include the following:

Silver Creek Trail, aka Hiking Club Trail, a 3.5-mile loop with some hills and bare rock. You will cross a swinging bridge, climb a short section of rock, and follow a grassy path through the trees. There are views of the St. Louis River and Silver Creek.

Carlton Trail Trip, a 5-mile loop that is steep with rugged terrain, bare rock, and packed dirt. Although this trail isn’t for everyone, it will give you great views of the St. Louis River and pass by an old cemetary and through a shaded forest.

CCC Trail, an easy 1.8-mile loop on grass that is mostly flat. Start behind the River Inn and stop at the benches near scenic points along the St. Louis River before heading into the forest. An alternative is to start from the kiosk at the back of the River Inn parking lot and work your way that way, saving the river views for the end of your hike.

Thomson Dam Trip, a 2 mile one-way, out-and-back trail with some hills and paved. Hike up the Forbay Trail and follow the Willard Munger State Trail west toward a trestle bridge. Explore the rocky river gorge in the area before heading back the way you came.

Gooseberry Falls State Park

Gooseberry Falls State Park is about 40 miles from Duluth and 13 miles from Two Harbors, the closest “city” of any size in this area. You’ll want to stop in Two Harbors for gas and food for the largest selection of both. Park at the Gooseberry Falls State Park visitor center and pick up a free map of the park that includes all of the trails. As they mention on the park map, if you only have an hour to spend here, walk the short distance from the visitor center to the Upper and Middle Falls or take the longer 1-mile Falls Loop Trail. As you might imagine, the waterfalls are the highlight of this park. Swimming is prohibited in the Upper Falls but I saw plenty of people swimming and cooling off in the Middle and Lower Falls.

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park is about an hour from Duluth (48 miles) and just north of Gooseberry Falls State Park. The lighthouse was in service from 1910 to 1969 and is supposed to be one of the most visited and photographed lighthouses in the US. In the summer for a fee you can walk inside the lighthouse and go up the steps of the lighthouse and walk around the grounds with the Fog Signal Building, three keeper’s houses and the Visitor Center. There are some pretty extensive trail systems that go through this park including the Gitchi-Gami State Trail that you can take 8.5 miles to get near the Middle Falls waterfall and spot parts of the Upper and Lower Falls from Gooseberry State Park. There is also the Split Rock River Loop Trail that connects with the Superior Hiking Trail which stretches along the North Shore, from Duluth to Grand Portage.

Tettegouche State Park is about 60 miles from Duluth and takes a little over an hour to drive there. This was the most northern park we went to in Minnesota and it was my favorite of all of the parks we went to. The views reminded me of Maine especially at Acadia National Park with the sheer cliff faces overlooking the water with wonderful hues of green and blue from minerals. My favorite trail was the Shovel Point Trail and at only 1.2 miles out-and-back, that might not seem like it’s so difficult. However, there are 300 stairs on this trail, making me huff and puff going up, but the views were most definitely worth it, even before we reached the top. You can hike this from the visitor center with no permit required, as is the same with the Cascades Trail (ending at a waterfall) and the High Falls Trail. You can drive down to the trailhead parking lot for High Falls Trail and cut the length of the trail in half, from 3 miles to 1.5 miles, but you’ll also have to purchase a permit to park at the trailhead parking lot.

Tettegouche State Park

We didn’t do all of this hiking in one day but we did hike the last three state parks in one day (Tettegouche, Split Rock Lighthouse, and Gooseberry Falls) and while we were tired at the end of the day, it is completely doable if you’re already in good hiking shape. If you’re not much of a hiker, you could still visit all three of these parks in one day and just spend more time at the visitor centers and do some short hikes. As always at any park whether it’s a national or state park I’ve found the people working at the visitor center to be helpful and usually you can pick up a map of the area including the trails. This time was no exception to that!

One Brief Mention of Food– as I alluded to above, you’ll find the best selection of restaurants in the town of Two Harbors. We ate at Black Woods Bar and Grill, which I later found out also has restaurants in Duluth and Proctor, and greatly enjoyed our food there . There’s a nice outdoor patio area as well as indoor seating. We also happened upon a food truck around lunch time in Two Harbors and picked up some great grilled cheese and ham sandwiches (but fancier with brie and another cheese that I’m forgetting, apple slices, and gourmet bread) and made-to-order donut holes.

After all of this hiking, we were ready for some time doing other things, though, so in my next post, I’ll talk about what we did and saw then!

Have you been to Duluth or the upper part of the state that borders Lake Superior? If so, where did you go and what did you do?

Happy travels!

Donna


Taking Some Downtime From Running

After running the Lake City Half Marathon in Minnesota on June 26 followed immediately the next weekend by the Peachtree Road Race on July 3, my body told me I needed to take a little break from running. I had been not only running but training hard for the last few months and I had some of the highest mileage months I’ve had since I was training for a marathon many years ago. I didn’t have any injuries or even aches or pains but I just felt like I needed a break.

This time around when I was training for the half marathon in Minnesota I was much smarter and was sure I made time for stretching and foam rolling after every run, in addition to monthly deep-tissue massages, and making getting quality sleep every night a top priority for recovery. Still, I know my body and I know when it’s time to take a break from running. I was ready and to sweeten the deal, Mother Nature decided to crank up the heat and humidity even more where I live, so I wasn’t complaining.

Other than when the pandemic started and everything started shutting down, a typical year for me these last few years would have me start training in January for a half marathon in April. Then I would take two weeks off from running completely to recover and just take walks or hike if I was traveling the week after the race. I would jump right into training again for another half marathon in June or July, followed by two weeks off again. Typically I would get to take a little bit of time off training in August until I needed to start training for my fall half marathon, usually in October or November. Finally, after my third and last race of the year I would take my mandatory two weeks off then just run for fun on days when the weather wasn’t so bad in December.

Taking some time off from running to stop and smell the flowers

In 2020 even though I didn’t run a single race, I started out training for races, thinking they would still happen (“surely this Coronavirus will be gone in a few months,” I naively thought). I trained for what I thought was going to be a half marathon in New Mexico in April, then I trained for what I thought was going to be a half marathon in Minnesota in June. After the second failed attempt at racing for the year, I finally gave up and settled into my own running plan for the rest of the year.

When some people complained about gaining the COVID-15 pounds and other people were taking up running and cycling for the first time, I considered myself fortunate to be able to get outside in the fresh air and run and stay healthy. I know not everyone had this luxury and I didn’t take it for granted. With the extra time on my hands from not being able to go into work, I funneled that time into running more, stretching and foam rolling, and doing more core work.

I felt like I had laid the strongest foundation for my half marathon training plan I had ever laid down for any half marathon ever when I started training for the race in Minnesota. It had also been 20 months between races, with the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon, Omaha, Nebraska- 47th state in October 2019 as my last race before the Lake City race this past June. My body was ready to race. That carried over to the Peachtree Road Race the following weekend where I felt like the miles flew by as I happily ran down the streets in Atlanta.

After all of that, though, as I said, it was time for a break. I’m not one of those people who gets anxious when I can’t run. I know my body needs a break from hard running every now and then and I can appreciate that time off. It doesn’t mean I’m just sitting around watching Netflix and eating popcorn (although that does sometimes happen). I’m still going on some walks, stretching, foam rolling, and doing some yoga.

It won’t be long until I’ll need to start training for my next half marathon but until then I’m going to just rest and enjoy the extra time on my hands. What about you- do you train in cycles for races and take time off in-between? How do you feel about time off from running- do you enjoy it or does not running drive you crazy?

Happy running!

Donna

Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota in a Minute Plus a Meetup!

My vacation and first visit to Minnesota was supposed to happen in June of 2020 after running a half marathon for state number 49 of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Thanks to COVID, my remaining three half marathons in Iowa, Minnesota, and New Mexico got all changed and moved around. Instead of running a half marathon in St. Paul in June last year, I ended up running a half marathon this past June about an hour from Minneapolis and St. Paul in a small town called Lake City (you can read all about that here: Circle of Life Half Marathon, Lake City, Minnesota- 48th state).

Conservatory at Como Park

Because the race was an hour from the twin cities, I decided to just spend the day that I flew into MSP in that area then drive and stay in Lake City until right after the race then drive to Duluth to do some hiking there (which deserves a post of its own). I knew that a travel blogger who also has a podcast with her husband live in the Minneapolis area so I contacted her to see if we could meet up and she said they were available for lunch the day I would be flying in. Her website is The Travel Architect (https://thetravelarchitect.wordpress.com/).

She recommended a spot for lunch called Red Cow that had some delicious burgers and the four of us had a lovely lunch with plenty of travel talk and some science talk since her husband is a science teacher and my daughter just finished taking chemistry. It was great to finally meet in person after following her blog and their podcast for so long. They were both exactly as I expected, which is to say they were both fun and engaging and it was a nice way to start out my trip to the land of 10,000 lakes.

My meetup in Minnesota!

The original plan after lunch was for my daughter and me to go standup paddleboarding at Bde Maka Ska Park but when we got to the lake it felt too windy for that so we decided to just walk around the lake instead. It was a beautiful sunny day albeit breezy and there were some people on the water in small sailboats and kayaks but I noticed no one was braving the wind on a SUP.

After a quick break for ice cream at Bebe Zito Ice Cream (known for their unique flavors), we went to Como Park in St. Paul and it was even bigger than I expected. There is an area with kiddie rides and carnival games, both a mini golf and regular golf course, a lake, and Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. After getting tickets online (free but you still had to arrange in advance as they weren’t allowing walk-ins) for the Zoo and Conservatory, we spent the next hour or so wandering around the grounds. The gardens were some of the best I’ve seen and I especially enjoyed the Japanese Garden area.

More photos from Como Park, windy Bde Maka Ska Park, and the first of many ice creams in Minnesota!

By now it was starting to get into the early evening hours and I knew I had at least an hour drive ahead of me to get to Lake City for the next phase of our Minnesota vacation so that ended our time in Minneapolis and St. Paul. It was brief, hence the minute reference in my title but it was most definitely enjoyable.

Have you been to Minneapolis or St. Paul? If so, what did you do and what did you think? Have you ever had a meetup with someone you follow online?

Happy travels!

Donna

Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta- My First 10k in 19 Years!

When I saw that in-person races were going to happen for 2021, I began to register for half marathons in my remaining three states from my quest to run a half in all 50 states. On a whim and in the spirit of being more spontaneous, as part of my Running Resolutions for 2021, I decided to enter the lottery for the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, Georgia. Much to my surprise and delight, not only did I get in the race but my teenage daughter also got in.

The Peachtree Road Race first began in 1970 and has grown to the largest 10k in the world. It was cancelled for the first time ever in 2020 because of COVID-19. The Atlanta Track Club helps put on the race and they decided to divide the race into two days for 2021, with half of the runners on July 3 and the other half including elite runners on July 4. When the lottery was open for applicants, I could choose which day I wanted to run as my first choice and which day was my second choice. Thinking I might have a better chance of getting in if I chose July 3, that was my plan, and apparently it worked.

I received what seemed like a dozen emails with race logistics such as how to get to the expo, course maps, links to the MARTA light rail system, COVID-19 information, and more. Going into the race, I felt extremely prepared and comfortable thanks to all of the information I had in advance. Although I had been to Atlanta a few times before, I still would have felt prepared going into the race because of the excellent communication from the race staff.

The Expo

The Expo was held June 26 and 27 and July 1 and 2 at the Georgia World Congress Center Exhibit Hall C2 in Atlanta starting in the morning and going to the afternoon each day. You had to register for a time slot in advance online. Since I was driving in from North Carolina on July 2, I chose the 2-3 pm time that day and decided to take the MARTA from my hotel. This all turned out to be wise decisions because I ran into traffic getting into Atlanta and by the time I got to the Expo, it was 2:45. I could have driven to the Expo but parking was $20 or $17 if you paid in advance through the race website and I knew traffic in that part of Atlanta would be a nightmare, especially on a holiday weekend. For those of you that may be interested, the closest MARTA stop to Hall C of the GWCC is Vine City, not the Dome-GWCC-Philips Arena-CNN Station, as one might think.

When I arrived at the Expo, I first picked up my race bib as well as my daughter’s race bib, then someone checked both of our vaccination cards and put a sticker of an orange on both of our bibs (signifying we were vaccinated, which came into play on race day), and finally I walked around to see what else was being offered. There were shirts from previous Peachtree Road Races being sold for $5 as well as shirts for the 2021 race at a higher price, Mizuno was selling shoes, the airline Delta was there (they were a sponsor), representatives from the Atlanta Track Club were there, there was a stand set up to sell reloadable Breeze cards for the MARTA and answer questions about that, and there were people walking around answering questions about the race in general. I was surprised there wasn’t a single sample being given out, but I believe that was because of COVID.

Race Day

Runners were asked to submit proof of a recent 5k or 10k in order to be placed in an earlier wave and coinciding earlier start time. Since I hadn’t run an official 5k or 10k in nearly 20 years, I submitted a time from a virtual 5k from Strava that I ran last summer and a time for my daughter from a cross country race she ran last fall. Much to my surprise, both were accepted and she was put in Wave B, while I was put in Wave C (as you probably surmise, it started with Wave A and ran through the alphabet, going to I on July 3 and L on July 4). That meant she had a start time of 6:30 and mine was 6:40. Perfect.

We decided to head to the MARTA station near our hotel at 6:00, which gave us plenty of time to get to the Lenox station, even with a transfer from the red line to the gold line. The weather at 6:30 was fantastic especially given it was in a city sometimes affectionately called “Hotlanta,” with temperatures in the low to mid 60’s and relatively low humidity. When we got close to the start corrals, there was a barrier set up with volunteers checking for the sticker of an orange on bibs. Since we had them on ours, we were allowed to go straight to the start waves but unvaccinated people had to go the other direction to get screened, which I believe meant temperature checks and the usual COVID-related questions.

Each wave was separated by 10 minutes to help with social distancing and we were told to spread out within our wave. The race course was along Peachtree Road, starting at Phipps Plaza and going to Piedmont Park. All roads were closed to traffic for the race, a feat I can’t imagine in a city of that size.

There were five water stations and several places on the course where there was music of some sort. A priest from a local church was throwing holy water on runners who wanted it at one point and I saw a couple of places where people were giving out water or other things like cut-up watermelon and handing it out to runners. Because of COVID, the water at the water stations was in single-use plastic bottles, meaning you had to unscrew the top to open it, something I didn’t really want to do so I skipped water on the course.

There is a hill that’s nicknamed “Cardiac Hill,” and I was aware of it going into the race but I wasn’t aware there would also be a couple of other hills on the course. Normally hills aren’t my strong spot but I was able to power through every hill in this race, which I was proud of, especially when I saw so many other runners walking up the hills. Maybe my hilly half marathon in Minnesota the week before helped.

I should also say I felt really good going into this race, even though it was only my second 10k ever with my first 10k in 2002 and a finish time of 56:49. For this race, my split times were 8:36, 8:02, 7:42, 8:41 (uphill), 8:39 (uphill), 8:14 (partial hill), and my final 0.2 was at 7:40 so I had a good kick left in me at the end. My final time was 52:27 (an average 8:27 pace), which put me at 3441 out of 24,228 overall, 771 out of 11,417 females, and 67 out of 1240 in my age group. I couldn’t have been happier.

My daughter had been struggling with a niggling Achilles problem she’s had for a couple of years so she had to slow down a bit during the race and I actually passed her towards the end, which made it easier to get together at the finish. There were a couple of family meeting places set up at the finish that we had agreed to meet at had I not caught up with her on the course. We received cotton/polyester blend t-shirts that were bundled up with a Clif Nut Butter Bar and a Publix Apple Fruit Squeeze inside. There was also water, Gatorade, and Coca Cola products. You had the option of purchasing a medal in advance, which I chose not to do but had a bit of FOMO when I saw someone with one.

The one thing I really wished they had at the finish was chairs and I heard other runners saying the same thing. There was plenty of grass since we were at a park but it was all wet with dew so we found an asphalt path and sat there until we felt like heading out for the long walk to the MARTA station (there was one close by but because of the race finish, it was closed so we had to walk what felt like 20 minutes but I didn’t time it so I can’t be sure to get to the next-closest station). Before we left though, we stopped by the medical station to get some ice for my daughter, which a volunteer taped to her calf and that helped relieve some of the pain.

Final Thoughts

Would I recommend this race? Absolutely, without hesitation. I loved the race and loved to be a part of the largest 10k in the world. It was well-organized from pre-race to post-race, had amazing volunteers everywhere, and had a fun vibe. When I was running this race, I had so much fun the miles flew by. It felt good to run fast and to run with a crowd again and I realized how much I had missed in-person racing.

Even though I had just run the Circle of Life Half Marathon, Lake City, Minnesota- 48th state literally one week before this race, the one in Minnesota couldn’t have been more different from this race. That race had less than 100 people running the half marathon, while this one had over 24,000 runners spread over two days (I believe there were around 11,000 on July 3 when I ran it). I ran the vast majority of the race in Minnesota by myself, with farmland for scenery and the occasional aid station with a few volunteers handing out water. The Peachtree was full of people everywhere going through a big city, although the crowd thinned out pretty quickly after the first mile so I had plenty of room to run, hundreds of volunteers, multiple aid stations, music on the course, and a definite party vibe. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the half marathon but it was nothing like this race.

Here is a link to the race website: https://www.atlantatrackclub.org/peachtree

Have you run the Peachtree Road Race? If so, what was your experience like? Do you want to run it but haven’t been able to get in the lottery?

Happy running!

Donna